Monday, April 3, 2017

Pontificating on the Shell and Its Ghost

You claimed WHAT on the internet?!
TL;DR version: I don’t give a damn.  She’s Asian.  I’m going to see the movie anyhow.  So should you.

This discussion grew out of, what else, an online argument about Ghost in the Shell and the apparent white-washing done to the main character Major Motoko Kusanagi when Scarlet Johannson was cast.  The work was enough, it seemed only right to keep it and share it.

If we're seriously discussing this, then let’s start at the basics. Masamune Shirow is the penname for Masanori Ota, born in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The penname comes from the famous Japanese swordsmith Goro Nyudo Masamune. Shirow’s manga, including Ghost in the Shell were first published in Japan, in Japanese and thus intended (outliers aside) for a Japanese audience with main characters who all have Japanese names. We can go on from there if you'd like, but I think we both agree where the preponderance of evidence lays.

Beyond the very surface evidence offered, there’s Kusanagi's body (yeah, there is, buddy!).  It's "generic" precisely so that she can be inconspicuous and blend in as a civilian to do her job.

Blend in where?

Oh, excellent question!  I'm so glad you asked.

Well, that's one way to sell a movie.
While Public Security Section 9 (fictional) operates as part of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission (not-fictional), and can conceivably function internationally, most of the action for Kusangai and the other characters takes place in New Port City (fictional) located on the north side of Osaka Bay (not fictional) in the Niihama prefecture (fictional) which is, as everyone may have guessed by this point, part of Japan (not fictional).  There are any number of other connections to the wheres and whens of the show, and I'm happy to offer them if requested.  Suffice to say that Ghost in the Shell characters and action is pretty exclusively based in Japan.  A quick Google search (YMMV) suggests that Japan is, aside from the 1.5% foreign residents, Japanese.  Thus, the Japanese government, when selecting a body and a face for their inconspicuous operative to blend in as a civilian would, without much of a logical leap, choose Asian features and even more likely choose “generic” Japanese features.  While her body mechanics are most assuredly other-than-human her outward appearance is very-much-human.  In the role of infiltration, and because the overwhelming bulk of the population is Asian/Japanese, Kusanagi is very-much-Asian/Japanese.

The character's actual background for the brain that runs the body (and sure, perhaps she was a housewife from Des Moines) isn’t known and frankly doesn't really matter.  The whole point of her current name and appearance are required to be Japanese.  We can argue this point if you'd like, but the simpler answer often (though not always) being the best, the Japanese government would most likely use a Japanese citizen for Kusangai, or at the very least an Asian citizen, if for no other reason than general availability.  There are, of course, other reasons, but I'll defer on this particular point given the preponderance of evidence.

That preponderance of evidence continues and if you haven't read the Manga (which I have) or watched the anime (which I also have), I'll offer the following comparison between how Shirow draws his Asian characters in comparison with how he draws his "Western/European" characters.  

One of these things is different from the others!
This is actually pretty typical of Manga in general as viewed by Western audiences.  But a quick look at any Japanese artwork, especially during the Tokogawa Era when anything non-Japanese was generally regarded as not just wrong, but bad, and you'll quickly see that the features we Westerners assign to Asians/Japanese aren't as prevalent as we would think—just like modern Manga (among a few other reasons, like attracting a wider audience).  For example, here is a "Miyamoto Musashi woodcut" and you can see how Japanese artists represented one of the most well-regarded samurai of all time.

Does this haircut make me look European?
All that said (and thank you very much for coming this far with me), I don't give three damns what race Kusanagi is cast for this particular movie.  I understand how movies are made, and some movies require a big, bigger or biggest name to even get bankrolled.  Ghost in the Shell required a pile of green stuff to be made, and (at least visually speaking) made right and that means that a biggest name needs to be attached.  ScarJo pretty much typifies that name.  I do think it's a damn, damn shame that a movie like this can't get off the ground otherwise, but that's the name of the game, and I'll continue to comment as I see fit.

So, is Kusanagi Asian?  Most assuredly.  Does that mean I don't see the movie.  Most assuredly not.  Should people boycott it?  Are you kidding me?!


1 comment:

  1. Actually Kusanagi's origin as far as her brain anyway is known,you will pick up on that by her various comments over time that she never had a physical body. This was gone into in some detail in the GITS Arise series. Bottom line is apparently her brain was stuffed into a shell before she was ever born due to a tragic accident that killed her parents.

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